Braves open youth field in Chipper's name
ATLANTA -- Chipper Jones received many retirement gifts over the course of his final tour of Major League Baseball in 2012, but on Thursday morning the Braves began to make sure their appreciation for one of the most popular players in franchise history would serve the dual purpose of promoting baseball within the city's youth.
Jones and Braves general manager Frank Wren were on hand on Thursday morning for the unveiling of a refurbished baseball field at West Manor Park in southwest Atlanta. Over the coming months, the Braves plan to overhaul 10 youth fields around the city as a retirement gift to the former third baseman, who will have his No. 10 retired by the franchise before Friday night's game against the D-backs.
"I grew up playing on a field not quite this nice," Jones told the assembled crowd. "[Braves field director] Ed Mangan's done a great job with this field and this facility. I can't tell you how exciting it is to see the kids back there in their Braves uniforms and their baseball uniforms not being able to wait to get on a field like this."
According to Wren, the idea for a series of renovations dated back to September, when the Braves' front office first began to discuss the process of honoring Jones after his retirement.
"There's no better way to honor Chipper Jones and the legacy he has as an Atlanta Brave," Wren said. "So this is the first of several fields that we'll go through the city and try to reinvigorate and reinvigorate baseball."
Joined at home plate by Wren, city councilman CT Martin and president of Friends of West Manor Park Jay Bailey, Jones participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony and threw out a ceremonial first pitch. He then held a short skills clinic with 30 children from the city's baseball program, providing instruction and encouragement as players took turns hitting off a tee.
"If we can come out and give one or two of these kids the focus it takes to grow up and be the next Hank Aaron or the next Jason Heyward, then that's what we want to try to do," Jones said.
West Manor Park plays host to baseball teams within the Junior Braves/RBI Youth Baseball League as well as the Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation's baseball league.
Before the crowd of local politicians, youth players, parents and community members, Jones recalled his central Florida upbringing and stressed the need for adequate facilities in underserved communities within a brief speech.
"This is not my hometown, but I have been here in Atlanta, Georgia, for the last 23 years, and I've kind of adopted it as my hometown now, and I certainly want to give back to you guys as much as I can," Jones said.
As he moved from the podium at home plate to the outfield where the clinic took place, Jones found himself in a situation reminiscent of his playing days, as children from the city baseball program and the community mobbed him with well-wishes and autograph requests.
"You want them to focus in the right spot and let them know that somebody else made it to the big leagues from rather modest beginnings," Jones said.